The Beauty of Forgiveness

by Tom Wacaster

Leonardo da Vinci painted "The Last Supper" in a church in Milan. Two very interesting stories are associated with this painting. At the time that Leonardo da Vinci painted "The Last Supper," he had an enemy who was a fellow painter. It is reported that da Vinci had had a bitter argument with this man and despised him. When da Vinci painted the face of Judas Iscariot at the table with Jesus, he used the face of his enemy so that it would be present for ages as the man who betrayed Jesus. He took delight while painting this picture in knowing that others would actually notice the face of his enemy on Judas. As he worked on the faces of the other disciples, he often tried to paint the face of Jesus, but couldn't make any progress. Consequently, da Vinci felt frustrated and confused. In time he realized what was wrong. His hatred for the other painter was holding him back from finishing the face of Jesus. Only after making peace with his fellow painter and repainting the face of Judas was he able to paint the face of Jesus and complete his masterpiece.

The beauty of forgiveness cannot be captured a painting. Nor can it be fully appreciated separate and apart from God's redeeming grace for mankind. Here are some things we know about God's wonderful forgiveness.

First, we marvel at the very prospect of forgiveness. Nature demonstrates no such quality. If a man falls over a rocky precipice, nature does not forgive the man of his clumsiness. The animal kingdom is no different. Wild animals thrive on instinct. Some years ago, while doing work in South Africa, we read a story in the newspaper of a man who, along with his family, was touring an animal park. Warned to stay in the car when driving through the lions' den, the man ventured from his automobile to get a better picture, and within a matter of seconds, he was attacked and mauled by one of the lions. The lion did not forgive the man for his foolishness. Yet in all of God's creation, it with regard to man that He demonstrates perhaps His greatest attribute, namely His willingness to forgive.

Second, we marvel at the extent to which God will forgive. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (emphasis mine, TW). God is not stingy when it comes to forgiveness. He actually "delighteth in mercy" (Micah 7:18).He does not upbraid us, nor does He in anyway limit His forgiveness toward us. If the "man-king" in the parable of the unforgiving steward was willing to forgive that man of his debt, how much more will our Father in heaven forgive us of our sins, regardless of the number or the magnitude of our iniquities?

Third, God's forgiveness demonstrates His marvelous grace. I was particularly struck with Sellers Crain's comments on this very point:

Forgiveness is the most powerful witness to the grace of God. When we forgive others, it tells the world that God is still alive and active. It is a powerful antidote for our feelings or resentment over wrongs done to us by others. Forgiveness is a creative force that brightens an otherwise darkened world (Crain, 149).

That wonderful grace of God has "appeared unto all men" (Titus 2:11). By the cross of Christ, men can be recipients of that wonderful grace. Therein is the ultimate demonstration of our Father's benevolent mercy. He knew what we needed, and in His great compassion He provided that need. I like the way an unknown poet put it:

If our greatest need had been information,
God would have sent us an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology,
God would have sent us a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money,
God would have sent us an economist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure,
God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest need was forgiveness,
So God sent us a Savior!

Finally, if we would be forgiven we must seek to emulate the same compassion and willingness to forgive those who sin against us. Failure to do so will bring the wrath of God upon us. "So shall also my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye forgive not every one his brother from your hearts" (Matt. 18:35).

Someone once said, "When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future" (Bernard Meltzer).